By 1970’s Gooner
Everybody, including Wenger, is comparing Fabregas with Scholes.
“The frame, intelligence in the game, passing ability and knowing when to go into the box. He is only 20 and people forget that." Said Wenger in his Portsmouth post match conference.
They are indeed similar players. They both play in central midfield and they are both playmakers of their respective sides. Excellent football players.
But Fabregas is a better footballer for Arsenal than Scholes is for Manchester United. A very bold statement you might say especially coming from a very biased Arsenal supporter.
Well, is it however?
Because they occupy the most influential parts of the pitch, midfielders are more likely to influence the outcome of a match than other positions, especially if they have vision for a good pass or ability to score.
It is generally accepted that outstanding midfielders need to posses a number of attributes on top of fitness: technique and ball skills, tackling, retaining possession and distribution, shooting and scoring as well.
We have managed, with great difficulty, to find statistical data for each player’s performance on most of the above attributes. They are presented in the table at the end of this article.
Now on which of those do you think Scholes is better than Fabregas?
Technique and ball skills
I would place Fabregas above Scholes in this area. Scholes is more of an energetic type of player who possesses average technique and ball skills. And by average I don’t mean that he is not good at it. He is average and Fabregas is above average.
Scholes does tend to release the ball much earlier than Fabregas (mainly due to Man Utd’s style of play) so we don’t have a chance to fully assess his ball skills under the pressure of an opponent sticking close to him while he is running with the ball.
You would not however classify him as a technical player. Certainly not at the same level as Fabregas who, when on the ball, gives you the illusion that time stands still.
He has the flair to manipulate the ball, shield it, run with it and release it to the right player at the appropriate time.
Usually, as is often said, fouling you is one of the better compliments that an opponent will give you.
During last season Fabregas was fouled 82 times and Scholes only 34. This is continuing this season with the respective stats being 7 against 2.
So far there is not much to choose between them in terms of tackling.
12 tackles won for Scholes against 10 for Cesc with the latter having played a game less this season (I could not find data for the total number of tackles per player; only successful tackles!)
For the record Reo Cocker of Aston Villa has the most tackles won so far, 25 with a success rate of 72% whereas Bikey of Reading has a 90% success rate but with only 21 tackles won.
Tackling: 2007/08 season
Tacklers Team Tackles Success rate
Reo-Coker Aston Villa 25, 72%
Jenas Tottenham 24, 71%
Bikey Reading 21, 90%
Boateng Middlesbrough 20, 85%
Malbranque Tottenham 20, 70%
Source: Skysports.com (Opta stats)
In terms of commitment both Scholes and Cesc seem to concede the same number of fouls (73 for Scholes vs 78 for Fabregas last season) so there does not seem to be a great deal of difference on this count.
Fabregas has improved a lot this season and the increase in his body weight (by a few kilos apparently) has certainly added steel to his tackles. A recent example of course that tackle on Repka in Prague.
On the other hand Scholes’ style is not really that of a strong or indeed effective tackler.
Proof is the clumsiness of his tackles and the red and yellow cards he receives as a result.
The stats bear this out; 2 red cards and 12 yellows for Scholes last season to no red cards and 9 yellows for Fabregas.
Effectiveness in the distribution of the ball can to my mind be measured by the number of passes and their accuracy.
However distribution effectiveness should also take into account the number of assists for each player.
Apart from actually scoring, a goal assist is the most important “distribution” a midfield player can make.
Scholes is way ahead of Fabregas on the distribution stakes.
He is by far the Premier League’s top passer so far this season with 409 and a pass accuracy of 89%.
Passing: 2007/08 season
Passers Team Passes Accuracy
Scholes Man Utd 409, 89%
Ferdinand Man Utd 310, 90%
Vidic Man Utd 303, 87%
Lampard Chelsea 259, 86%
Hamann Man City 246, 83%
Source: Skysports.com (Opta stats)
Fabregas on the other hand is nowhere near Scholes on this count. His count is 216 passes with a success rate of 79%. If we take into account games played, Scholes puts together 82 passes per game to 54 for Fabregas.
Again, Scholes does tend to release the ball much earlier than Fabregas and also makes a lot of short passes where accuracy is relatively easier to achieve.
It’s not a surprise that the next two players behind Scholes in the table above are both central defenders who do have a tendency to pass the ball short and usually to each other or to the midfielders.
On the goal assists however Fabregas is way ahead with 2 so far this season against none from Scholes; and before you say that the sample is too small look at the stats for last season: 16 assists for Cesc and only 3 for Scholes.
Fabregas is therefore by far the more effective passer of the ball of the two even if Scholes passes the ball more often.
Goal scoring ability
It’s all very well to possess all the above attributes but if a player can’t chip in with the goals he will never be the complete midfielder.
Scholes has the upper hand with 7 goals scored during Manchester United’s title wining season.
Fabregas scored 4 which considering Arsenal’s problems last season is not such a bad record when placed against Scholes’.
This season Fabregas is ahead with 2 against 1 (in the Premier League).
What is interesting however is the number of goal attempts.
Last season Cesc had more than twice the number of shots on goal with 59 vs 27. This is continuing this season with 5 against 3.
So on the goals count Fabregas is closing the (small) gap that was there last season.
I would consider Fabregas a more effective player than Scholes.
He has better technique and ball skills (although this, I concede, can only be a personal opinion), he is a more effective passer of the ball due to his far superior number of goal assists , tackles as effectively as Scholes and is now scoring at the same rate as Scholes.
Fabregas Vs Scholes: Vital Statistics 2007/08 Vs 2006/07
The first column corresponds to the 2007/08 Premier League season and the second column to the 2006/07 season in all competitions. Blank columns indicate lack of data.
Birthplace: Arenys de Mar
Weight: 76 kg
Fouls committed 3, 78
Fouls suffered 7, 82
Assists 2, 16
Attempts created 8,
Won contest 3,
Total passes 216,
Red Card 0, 0
Accurate Passes 170,
Clean Sheet 1,
Won Tackles 10,
Scoring attempts 12, 99
Good high claims 0,
On target attempts 6, 59
Goals 2, 4
Yellow Card 1, 9
Minutes played 360,
Total contest 4,
Weight: 69 kg
Fouls 5, 73
Fouls suffered 2, 34
Assists 0, 3
Attempts created 9,
Won contest 0,
Total passes 409,
Red Card 0, 2
Accurate Passes 363,
Clean Sheet 3,
Won Tackles 12,
Scoring attempts 12, 42
Good high claims 0,
On target attempts 3, 27
Goals 1, 7
Yellow Card 0, 12
Minutes played 450,
Total contest 3,
Sources: ESPN, Daily Telegraph